Council on Social Work Education
Abstract and Keywords
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) provides leadership in social work education through faculty development, research, and accreditation of baccalaureate and master's social work programs. As of February 2012, 689 social work programs were accredited by CSWE. These programs represent an estimated 7,500 faculty members and 82,000 students at the baccalaureate and master's levels. CSWE promotes continued educational innovation and relevancy through setting accreditation standards, which are regularly revised by volunteer representatives from the social work education and practice community and approved by the CSWE Board of Directors.
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is a nonprofit association that “aims to promote and strengthen the quality of social work education through preparation of competent social work professionals by providing national leadership and a forum for collective action” (CSWE, 2011a, p. C2). CSWE accomplishes this mission through setting and maintaining standards for accreditation of social work programs, advancing innovative social work curriculum, promoting faculty development and research, and advocating for social work education (CSWE, 2011a). The Council on Higher Education Accreditation also recognizes CSWE as the sole accrediting body for social work programs at the baccalaureate and master's levels. As of February 2012, 689 baccalaureate and master's social work programs were accredited by CSWE, representing more than 7,500 faculty and 82,000 social work students (CSWE, 2011b, 2012).
In the first half of the 20th century, CSWE was formed by the merging of two social work organizations—the American Association of Schools of Social Work (AASSW) and the National Association of Schools of Social Administration (NASSA). Created in 1919, the AASSW had determined by 1930 to accredit only graduate programs in social work (Kendall, 2002). The NASSA was established in 1942 as a second accrediting body in reaction to the development of the graduate-only accreditation policy of AASSW (Austin, 1997; Beless, 1995). Difficulties were exacerbated for social work students, graduates, and employers as the two accrediting organizations disagreed over the purpose and means of preparation for qualified social workers (Beless, 1995). Continuing and deepening separation between the two accrediting bodies threatened to divide the field of social work (Austin, 1997; Kendall, 2002).
In 1945 a Joint Committee on Social Work Education was commissioned to address this division in accreditation (“The Professional Schools,” 1945). In 1946, the National Council on Social Work Education was formed that included not only AASSW and NASSA members but also other stakeholders such as practice organizations, accrediting organizations, and social service agencies. The primary work of the national council was the commissioning of a comprehensive study of social work education and curriculum (Hollis & Taylor, 1951). Spurring its work was the November 1947 action of the Joint Committee on Accrediting, which removed the authority to accredit social work programs from both AASSW and NASSA due to their inability to reach a consensus on social work accreditation (Kendall, 2002). As a result of the national council’s study and efforts, the two organizations, AASSW and NASSA, merged in 1952 to create a single accrediting body, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) (Austin, 1997; Kendall, 2002). CSWE maintained accreditation for the graduate programs in social work, but only “approved” undergraduate programs in social work, until it developed accreditation standards for baccalaureate programs in 1973, and the National Commission on Accrediting formally authorized CSWE to accredit baccalaureate social work programs in 1974 (CSWE, 1973, 1974).
One landmark and controversial decision in the development of social work curriculum was the decision to begin formally accrediting baccalaureate social work programs. The study of social work education conducted by the Joint Commission in 1945 resulted in recommendations for social work education at the baccalaureate and master's levels. Early drafts of the Hollis and Taylor report had been negative about baccalaureate education, but the final report did include proposed objectives for undergraduate study. However, when CSWE was established in 1952, it began formally accrediting only master’s programs in social work and “approving” baccalaureate programs. In part, the decision to accredit only master’s programs stemmed from the desire in the field to be recognized as a professional discipline (Austin, 1997). Although the continuum of social work education had been studied previously (Boehm, 1959; Hollis & Taylor, 1951), the accreditation of baccalaureate social work programs in 1974 resulted in a need to critically examine the educational continuum and especially the purpose for education at each level. The landmark change resulted in more formal structures for differentiation of the curriculum at each level and for the continuum itself (for example, Advanced Standing). A more integrated policy statement, which addressed the standards for education at the baccalaureate and master's levels, was issued in 1982 (CSWE, 1982). CSWE has never accredited doctoral programs in social work, although it fosters linkages and dialogue with the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work and compiles statistics on doctoral social work programs.
Role in Development of Social Work Curriculum
The CSWE Commission on Accreditation (COA) is charged by the CSWE Board of Directors with the “authority to accredit, to impose conditional accredited status, to deny accreditation or to withdraw accreditation of master's and baccalaureate degree programs in social work” (CSWE, 2010, p. 9). The Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) is the document used by COA uses to make accreditation decisions; EPAS outlines the purpose and requirements for the education of social work students at the baccalaureate and master's levels. The EPAS “supports academic excellence by establishing thresholds for professional competence” (CSWE, 2008, p. 1).” The CSWE bylaws stipulate that the COA and the Commission on Educational Policy will review and revise the EPAS regularly to ensure that the policy and standards are reflective of the current state of the field (CSWE, 2010). Members of COA and the Commission on Educational Policy are nominated by the social work education community and are appointed to their positions by the chair of the CSWE Board of Directors.
The CSWE Board of Directors approved the most recent EPAS in 2008 after an extensive review and development process; the next scheduled revision is 2015.
Social Work Curriculum
EPAS describes “four features of an integrated curriculum design: (1) program mission and goals; (2) explicit curriculum; (3) implicit curriculum; and (4) assessment” (CSWE, 2008, p. 1). The document has moved to a design that is intended to be less prescriptive and “permits programs to use traditional and emerging models of curriculum design, implementation, and evaluation” (CSWE, 2008, p. 1). This allows for creativity and innovation in programs while maintaining standards for comparability in the promotion of quality assurance. The significant change in the 2008 version of EPAS was shifting to a competency-based outcomes approach to curriculum design. In the section on explicit curriculum, the EPAS outlines 10 competencies that are common to social work practice; each competency has related knowledge and practice behaviors that further define it. These competencies describe what social work graduates must know and be able to do in order to practice effectively with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. EPAS not only details specific competencies but also includes standards for the entire educational context (implicit curriculum), including social work faculty, administration, and resources, as well as student rights and nondiscrimination (CSWE, 2008).
Strengthening the Profession
CSWE “aims to promote and strengthen the quality of social work education” not only through the development of policy and accreditation standards and the accreditation of social work programs but also through providing faculty development opportunities and promoting research on social work education.
CSWE provides professional development opportunities for social work faculty, administrators, and students through workshops and meetings, including the Annual Program Meeting, which drew nearly 2,700 attendees in 2011. CSWE also provides faculty development through the publication of the Journal on Social Work Education and books and monographs on issues of concern to the social work education community (CSWE, 2011a).
The CSWE Office of Social Work Education and Research (OSWER) was established in 2004 to fulfill CSWE's research agenda; assist the CSWE Board of Directors, commissions, and councils in research and policy work; and conduct research of interest to the social work education community. Since its inception, OSWER has assisted in research projects related to the revisions of EPAS (accreditation quality assurance), distance education, doctoral education, mental health, and military social work, in addition to managing and reporting on the Annual Survey of Social Work Programs (CSWE, 2013).
Challenges and Opportunities
In a climate of diminishing resources, the political and educational sectors have called for increased transparency and accountability. This call for accountability can be seen in the public sector in initiatives that focus on educational outcomes as well as institutional and programmatic comparability. In the private sector the continued emphasis on evaluation is indicative of a focus not only on the inputs but also on outputs and outcomes. To compete in this environment, social work will have to seriously examine the effectiveness of social work education (Watkins & Pierce, 2005). The 2008 EPAS suggests just such a shift in paradigm for social work from an inputs model to competency-based education (CSWE, 2008).
CSWE is concerned with “ensuring and advancing the quality of social work education” while meeting the workforce demands for trained professional social workers. Since 2002 the number of CSWE accredited social work programs has increased by 20.5% (Holmes, 2006; CSWE, 2012). Since one of the main reasons that social work programs close is due to a lack of resources and funds (Watkins & Pierce, 2005), a careful balance must be maintained to protect the students enrolled in accredited programs.
Another key area for attention in social work education is the need to increase diversity in social work programs, students, and faculty. Although some gains have been made in increasing diversity in social work programs (CSWE, 2011b), further progress is needed. CSWE has several initiatives intended to address these concerns, including the CSWE Minority Fellowship Program, which has provided scholarship and mentoring assistance to minority doctoral students since the 1970s, and the ongoing work of the CSWE Commission for Diversity and Social and Economic Justice (CSWE, 2011a).
In addition to the external challenges mentioned (emphasizing accountability and transparency, maintaining funding for programs, and diversifying the profession), internal challenges also affect the cohesiveness of the profession. There is a historical basis for the tension between program levels; as previously mentioned, the baccalaureate and master's levels split very early in the development of social work education and when they came together under the auspices of a single accrediting body, only the master's level was accredited, whereas the baccalaureate level was merely “approved” (Austin, 1997). Such a move deepened the rift between the two levels. Recognizing and valuing the education of social workers at each level is necessary for recruitment and retention of students and ensuring that educational content is not repeated in the continuum.
To ensure the continued growth and sustainability of social work as a profession, it is imperative that research, practice, and education be connected and integrated. Fragmentation in the profession among the various social work specialty and educational organizations related to these three components can lead to an inability to address the needs of social work clients over time. The professional associations for social work are beginning to work together to improve their interconnections and build on their mutual interest of advancing the profession. It will require the efforts of the whole field to bring about this systematic coordination of research, practice, and education for the benefit of all constituencies.
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